George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 25 February 1779

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Middlebrook 25 feby 1779.


I find from experience in the Quarter Master’s department, the greatest difficulty in procuring waggoners—These are a class of men that are difficult to be found; and are so essential to the movements of the army that there is nothing to be done without them.

The encouragement that was given last campaign appeared to be very high, and the pains that was taken to enlist men for the waggon service, was very great; yet a very small part of the necessary number could be found.

The discontent given to officers from employing soldiers for waggoners, and the inconveniencies that your Excellency has found from this practice in the loss of discipline; together with the diminution of the strength of the line in detaching for this service, renders it necessary that some other measures be fallen upon to provide waggoners for the army.

Were these the only evils the injury would not be so great; but there is a much greater waste of horse-flesh from improper persons being employed in this service, than would be, if proper waggoners were provided, and those kept constantly to that business.

The duty is disagreeable in itself. The waggoners are greatly exposed, being out night and day without the common comforts and conveniencies that soldiers enjoy in a well regulated camp. These hardships are multiplied by the abuse they are often subject to from the officers of the line, [who]1 from a mistaken opinion think every body has a right to correct a waggoner. From the nature of the service; the hardships they endure, and the abuse they are subject to I find it very difficult to get any to engage.

The bounty that is now given—which is a suit of clothes—and the wages which is ten pounds month, have but a feeble influence when people are giving from twenty to thirty pounds month for service much easier and more agreeable. I think therefore there is not the least prospect of obtaining a sufficient number upon the present conditions.

Upon the whole it appears to me that the duty is so disagreeable, and the expence of procuring waggoners for a short time so enormous; and the shifting waggoners so destructive to horse-flesh, as well as perplexing the operations of a campaign, that the public had better submit to the expence of enlisting waggoners for the war, and give them the same bounty which is now given to soldiers, and allow them such wages and clothing as others can be provided for, upon annual service, than persue the present mode. The bounty is considerable, but the expence of annual enlistments, and supporting waggon conductors while out upon this service, is equally so; besides which the department is always in distress, and the business in a State of uncertainty.

The season is fast approaching when waggoners will be wanted; and I have received the fullest testimonies from our agents, that not a man can be engaged upon the former encouragement; nor none of those detained who have been on service before—Therefore I must beg your Excellency’s advice on this matter as soon as possible; as a delay may be destructive to the operations of the Campaign.2

The only effectual remidy will be to endeavour to engage waggoners for the war; and in the end, I am persuaded it will be by far the least expensive, altho’ it may appear otherwise in the first instance. I am &

Nathl Greene Q.M.G.

Copy, in James McHenry’s writing, enclosed in GW to James Duane, 27 Feb. 1779, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, enclosed in Greene to Duane, 9 March, DNA:PCC, item 173; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy, DNA:PCC, item 155. The copy in item 152, enclosed in GW’s letter to Duane of 27 Feb., is dated 25 Feb., as is the copy of that copy in item 169. The copy in item 173, enclosed in Greene’s letter to Duane of 9 March, is dated 24 Feb., but it is docketed 25 February. The copy of that copy in item 155 is dated 24 Feb., as is the nineteenth-century transcript in the Greene Papers at CSmH. The two copies of this letter dated 25 Feb. came from GW and presumably were derived from the receiver’s copy, the preferred copy text.

For a discussion of the background to Greene’s recommendation regarding the enlistment of wagoners for the war and Congress’s actions on this matter, see Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 3:298–99, n.1.

1This word is supplied from the copy of this letter in DNA:PCC, item 173.

2GW forwarded a copy of this letter to Congress’s committee of conference with his letter to James Duane of 27 Feb., and although GW expressed some doubt about the effectiveness of bounties in enlisting wagoners for the duration of the war, he was willing to try them, and Congress gave its approval on 16 March (see John Jay to GW, 17 March, and n.1 to that document; see also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 13:320–21). For Greene’s additional recommendations regarding the pay for wagoners, see his letter to GW of 24 March, and GW to Jay, 24 March (see also Greene to GW and GW to Greene, both 19 April, DLC:GW).

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